Do you trust ads from radio DJs?

By Paul Michael on 8 March 2008 (Updated 18 August 2011) 22 comments
Photo: GypsyRock

The US radio airwaves are filled with endorsements from radio DJs, and the list of things they hawk is mind-blowing.  Coming from a country that doesn’t have these paid radio endorsements, I have a different perspective on it. And it leads me to ask two questions; do you really believe the endorsement?; does it change your opinion of the DJ?

My radio station of choice at the moment is an AM talk radio station called KHOW. I am estimating here, but I would say around 22 minutes of each hour is devoted to advertising, and at least half of that is done by the DJs themselves. And to be honest, they really grind on me. Most of the time, it’s the awful segues.

There’s a lot of political talk going on right now due to the November election. After an interesting and lively debate on Clinton and Obama recently, the DJ stopped in his tracks to say something like this: “Boy, you know this election really requires a candidate with a lot of vision and foresight, and that’s why I’d like to talk about Lasik eye treatment and the amazing  offer you can get at Spivak.” Talk about lame.

But it doesn’t stop there. “You know, Hillary Clinton was in hot water with Obama last night, just like I was in my incredible spa from SpaBrokers. Oh, it was so warm and invigorating.” AAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH!

And there’s more: “I’ll tell you, my dog has been lackluster really, but I fed him Purina One last week and now he’s jumping around like a newborn puppy.” Please, somebody, shoot me now. That’s about as genuine as a politician kissing a baby.

Do these DJs really believe that we believe them? Because I know for one that I don’t. Sure, they may be good products but these are paid endorsements. If you gave a DJ enough money he or she would wax lyrical about the amazing and wonderful taste of a dry dog turd he found on the pavement. It’s not the same as a regular ad on the radio. We, as consumers, are conditioned to listen to ads in a certain way and take them with a grain of salt.

But when a radio DJ stops everything to sell you dog food, plumbing fixtures or stainless steel barbecues, it does two things (at least to me). First, it makes me question everything that comes out of that DJs mouth. And second, it turns me against the product being advertised, which is not the intention at all.

I have been thinking about getting satellite radio recently, and it’s mainly due to the radio DJ ads. I can’t stand them. They make me boil inside. And if you change the channel, you just get more of the same. If you time it just right, you can be flicking channels for half an hour listening to nothing but empty, shallow paid endorsements from DJs who have more money than sense, and want you spend all of it using their name.

That’s right. If the paid endorsement wasn’t enough, the DJs get more lovely financial kickbacks when you use their name in a promotion box or referral line. “If you want to take advantage of this amazing offer, simply mention my name Dick Head and you’ll get 20% off.” Actually, you’ll get 20% off even if you don’t mention his name, just ask for it. That is, of course, if you actually take advantage of any radio offer. I never have and never will because I can’t bring myself to line the pockets of smug radio DJs who have only their own financial interests at heart.

Now, I’m opening up the floor. What kind of crass radio DJ ads have you heard recently? What awful segues have they used? What are they trying to sell you? I think we could all use a laugh. Now, where is that application for XM radio?

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Guest's picture
Sarah

Oh, I HATE when DJs hawk complete crap. We have Bob and Sheri on at work and if I have to hear them mention any more diet pills, I'm going to throw the radio out the window.

I'll also add John Tesh going on and on and on about that stupid game Apples to Apples during the holidays. I guess the advertising worked because I still vividly remember the inane ways he would segue into what a great game it is.

Guest's picture
Guest

I know I don't pay for the radio. Do you people?

How should those radio people go about getting funds?

The writer said it himself. If you don't like commercials get satellite. You should just get Sirius and XM. They both have good and bad things.

Guest's picture
Dwight

Whenever you hear of a health care product being advertised on the radio, you can almost be certain that it's something you want to avoid. I work in health care and rarely hear an ad for anything I would want for myself.

BTW, the talk shows on satellite have advertising as well. You can't escape advertising, but you can choose not to buy.

Paul Michael's picture

...you're watching an interesting debate on TV between a prominent politician and, say, Barbara Walters. She's just about to ask a really important question but then stops, turns to the camera, and says "friends, I'd like to talk to you about an amazing cure for athlete's foot."

This is the difference between regular advertising and paid endorsements. They are far more disruptive and cast a huge shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of the presenter. By all means have your ads, pay for your station that way, but not these crass endorsements. And by the way, it sucks that satellite has ads, too. WHy do you pay for it then?

Guest's picture
Ronni

But then, why pay for cable when you have to watch commercials?

There's pretty much no way to escape it, unfortunately.

David DeFranza's picture

This crass form of advertising is one of the many reasons I enjoy listening to Nation Public Radio and independent radio stations. There is an NPR affiliate broadcasting almost everywhere in the United States and, while there are commercial breaks, the shameless shilling of goods and services is generally absent from the programs themselves.

True, you won't find Opie and Anthony, John Tesh, or Bob and Sheri style talk radio, but the programing is generally pretty interesting and the discussions lively.

That said, XM does tempt me, if only to listen to the "Theme Time Radio Hour."

Very funny post Paul.

Guest's picture
Guest

What I find more disturbing is the enormous number of ads!

What I find weird is how major sponsors do not mind having their ads negated, e.g., a Ford ad followed by a Chevy ad

I love talk radio, but it has turned into a FOX tv channel with their huge number of ads, but with FOX I record shows to speed through the commercials

It would seem if I was an advertiser I would be willing to pay more if I would be guaranteed more, say my ad not negated, nor at the end of 10 commercial sweep

I would have fewer ads, but I might just be heard (or seen)

Guest's picture
Canadian listener

I've never heard these kind of endorsements here in Canada. Am I wrong, or do we have different rules here? (Does anyone know?)

Guest's picture

As a voice actor I would be really happy if all radio stations hired professionals to do the ads, but they often have their DJs do it instead. And considering the number of former DJs I know who left radio because the pay was so miserable, the endorsements are unlikely to be making them rich, if they even see any of that money at all.

Everybody has to make a living. But if you want to make pots of money, you do not go into radio.

Paul Michael's picture

but recently I heard Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck all hawking products during their shows. Tell me these guys aren't worth a few bucks.

Guest's picture
Alyson

I DO NOT recommend it, although my father loves it, but that's because he can get hours and hours and hours of Frank Sinatra + Beach Boys + Jan & Dean anywhere in the country. We had it for a while, just to test because my husband got a deal where it was free, and it was ok. Most of the stations were on a loop to rival the top 40 stations on free radio (think 90 - 120 minutes before Justin Timberlake was on again), I would scroll through all the stations and - Hey #22, Sexy Back, #30, Rhianna, #35, Sexy Back, #50, Rhianna, #62, Sexy back. - and on and on. There are only like 10 stations on there that play stuff you couldn't be getting on free radio and they, too, kinda suck. And, we would go to Maine (southern Maine) and it wouldn't work because of trees - isn't that the type of place they tout it for? Spotty and limited regular radio coverage? I think it's exactly like cable TV - but I'm not buying this. I can get my NPR and my Mike FM on free radio and they're really light on commercials.

On to the Radio DJ's endorsing products - it's really not all that different from Jessica Simpson on ProActiv Solution, or Chuck Norris and his Bowflex - it is done rather sneakily with the segues, but it's pretty easy to spot. I will not say I'm not totally annoyed by the fact that Peter Mead loves his new home gym and that his daughter fights him to use it...but, I get it. And it's free and NPR doesn't do it, they do fund drives, which are ok, and Mike doesn't have DJs and they do three hours in the am with NO COMMERCIALS (not counting the one that tells you that your commercial free three hours are brought to you by Jordan's furniture.)

I used to sit in the car while scrolling and finding nothing I wanted to listen to, except commercials for upcoming satellite shows on other stations or something else, and ask why we would pay for it...

Don't do it.

Guest's picture
MaryMcK.

but Paul, you know that those guys are an entirely different species of "DJ".

David DeFranza's picture

Alyson,

When I lived in New England I also listened to Mike FM a lot. The randomness of that station is unmatched and really entertaining.

Guest's picture
Lucille

The two major radio stations in our area are horrible with their commercials. Both have DJ's doing endorsements and taped ads on top of it. What I find most annoying is the poor production quality very loud commercials both stations do. They are so annoying and so frequent I quit listening to both stations. I got sick of having to turn down the volume on the car radio constantly.

If I am in the car I listen to NPR or patch my MP3 player into the car stereo. As far as satellite radio, we had Sirius for about a year and really liked it. You will get tacky commercials on the talk channels that are mostly for scammy investments or some snake oil health remedy. They are usually fewer and slightly less annoying than what we got on local radio. What we found Sirius better for was trips. We always had something to listen to rather than being stuck with bad country music, farm reports and radio televangelists.

Guest's picture
Guest

I gave up on non-news FM radio years ago when Clear channel started buying up and homogenizing the cool jazz stations out on the west coast. Every once in a while, while driving into work with my wife, my decision is validated by exactly this dynamic -- DJ's pretending not to be shilling for some sponsor while all the while doing exactly that. It is just pathetic. Would prefer silence to that garbage any day of the week.

Guest's picture
Guest

Alice radio hawks mattresses and the DJ banter is so inane that I immediately change the channel and boycott the mattress company--probably not their target demographic/intended outcome. It makes me think much, much lower of the DJs in the ad.

Guest's picture
Guest

I totally agree with your post, but you already got your point across before you went too far. Dick Head? Give me a break. Keep it clean.

Guest's picture
DJ Tacoman

If you're listening to FM radio, keep the dial below 92.0 - above there is where the law says there can be ads. Ever noticed that your public, community, or college radio stations are down there? That's because it's a space reserved for them.
I was a DJ in college and we didn't run a single ad. We had information on a local business who had helped to sponsor us. That information was things like what they sell, where they can be found and how to contact them. We had one of those DJ-voiced 'ads'(I think we called them 'shout-outs') once per hour, and that's if we had enough sponsors to do it that often.
Don't like the programming of your community radio station? See if you can run a show! They're usually looking for someone to work the night shifts or might have great show times for you to play. Best part is that then you get access to their huge library of music so you can pick what to play!

Guest's picture
Laura

I have arguments ("argument" is probably too strong a word. "heated discussions" is probably better) with the boyfriend about the endorsements from Dave Ramsey. He is of the belief that they are not just paid advertisements because they come from the mouth of the great Dave.
A typical conversation:
"Dave Ramsey recommends X. We should use them."
"You know that's a paid advertisement. He has a personal interest in getting you to use them."
"But Dave recommends them! He wouldn't recommend something bad!"
"They gave him money to say that!"

I guess Dave Ramsey might screen his advertisers, but still, it's he's being paid to do it, not out of the goodness of his heart.

Guest's picture

The desperation radio managers have now to get ANY sales through the door because of shrinking listenership is only compounded by the jocks who’ll do anything to keep their piss-poor paying gigs. And there are no bad guys at the station level because they’re just trying to keep the darn station afloat.

In fairness though, these live reads were they very backbone of radio from its inception through to the 50’s and 60’s. It just sounds cheesier and more forced now.

Best always,
- Peter

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to start off by saying that I'm sorry your radio experience has been tarnished by what we call "live reads". I hate doing them, even if it is a product that I use or enjoy but there are two sad realities to what you hear. One is that *most* local DJ's make next to nothing a year. If someone offers them an endorsement fee, that might allow them to afford cable. Part two of that equation is that more often than not a slimy salesperson has gone and already told the client you'll endorse it, and they've signed the contract. If you refuse, the client walks, and your boss fires you then you're out of cash.

If it's someone like John Tesh, Bob & Tom, etc they are nationally syndicated and the live reads are different - not only are these people paid a fortune but they are plain old greedy - they don't need to do any endorsements for anything but they love the money so they do as many as they can, sometimes it's more than there is content in the show.

I do them because I make 27k a year... which in the world of high taxes, and high cost of living is *nothing*

One other thing - a poster above mentioned that she has to turn down her radio because the commercials are louder... that's not true. As a matter of fact that's in her head and I suggest she see a doctor (for obvious schizophrenia because she's hearing things.) Every single radio station I've worked in and visited has devices to compress, limit, and process their audio - in English that means IT ALL IS TRANSMITTED AT THE SAME VOLUME! TV - different story - they don't use the audio processing we use and therefore nothing is equalized. So it is possible to have louder commercials on TV, but that goes both ways as they can be quieter too. The idea that radio & TV stations make commercials louder is ridiculous and noting short of those that suffer from the same mental problems that tin foil hat people suffer from.

Guest's picture
Guest

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